Gunung  Merbabu is one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Java and hugely popular for that reason. I will say that I was not stoked to do this hike, knowing that it was hugely popular and with it being a Sunday mornin,g I knew there would be a lot of people on the mountain. It wasn’t until the sun came up and I reached the top that I saw why it is so popular. It truly is a beautiful hike and certainly worth your time.
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I climbed Merbabu at the end of June 2019 so I’ll detail my account below.
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My trip to Merbabu started in Solo. I was staying there and to get from Solo to Selo is only an hours drive. If you choose to start your trip in Yogjakarta then the trip will take around 2 hours to reach Selo.

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I left Solo at 1:30am and made the journey to Selo. The trip starts out on the highway before the road turns to concrete and begins to head up the mountain. In the early morning air it was quite cold and I was wishing that I’d bought some gloves with me. The way off the main road is a little hard to see in the dark, even with the huge sign pointing right where you need to turn. The way is well signposted but have google maps handy incase you can’t see the turn. 

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I went up the steep hill and it was here that even google maps was starting to get confused. The road has a lot of off shoots and for the life of me I couldn’t find where to go. I spend 15 minutes driving around aimlessly at 230am but in the end I saw the sign that said “basecamp” and I was on my way. 
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There was a boom gate with some guys there by a fire so I stopped and paid the 5k parking fee before heading up the hill. This is very common now in Java at the more popular mountains. As in the west everything is free and there would never be anyone at the base of a mountain taking your money, Indonesia does things different. They usually charge foreigners 20 times what a local pays to climb the mountain so almost all the time I try to avoid this fee. I would maybe pay if it actually went towards something but as you climb you’ll see there is rubbish everywhere, nothing is looked after and its just a corrupt money grab. Think twice before you decide to pay 20 times what the local price is.

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I parked at one of the basecamp parking areas, put on my backpack and started my hike up the hill. Just past all the basecamps there is a big arch saying Merbabu hiking trail. At night, the staff had put some gate there to block it but just to the left there is a small trail around it. The office was closed and there was no one to take the money. It was totally dead. So with no one around to collect the fee I started walking up the mountain.

 

Start of the hike

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The trail to the summit of Merbabu is one of the best hiking trails I’ve been on in Indonesia. The track is very nice and goes up quite gradually, until after the final camp where it really kicks up. Most other volcano hiking trails are very steep, through rutted out water channels and over a lot of tree roots. The trail up Merbabu is really good that it’s quite runnable for the most part. 
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The first hour or so until the final camp is quite nice. The night I went up there was a lot of ice covering the grass so be sure to bring at least a good jacket as it does get very cold. The views over to Merapi are also quite something. There are 3 big camps around 15 minutes apart and between them the trail dips down a bit before going back up again. This can be quite demoralising because you don’t actually know where the summit is. 
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After the last camp is where things start to get interesting. The trail really jacks up and because I had gone in the dry season the trail was very very dusty. It was the one time that I didn’t bring my hiking poles and I really wished that I had. By this stage it was 4am and the trail of headlights ahead was quite the sight. The headlamps wound their way up the mountain all the way to the top. It was a Sunday morning so all the students from Yogjakarta were out and about. It can be quite dangerous the last part as it is very steep and slippery from the dry dust. There have been some ropes installed but take care and be sure to wear shoes that have some really good grip on them. 

Summit

MErbabu

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Another hour after the last camp I was on the summit and it was 5am. It had taken me 2 hours from the gate to the top and most people would easily be able to get to the summit in 3 hours or less if they didn’t want to camp on the mountain. There is no way you could ever get lost as the path is very easy to navigate, even in the dark. The sheer number of other hikers also makes this a very safe hike because if you did roll an ankle or something similar there would be a lot of others around to help you out. Indonesians are also some of the most friendly people on the planet so you’ll certainly be stopping for at least a few selfies.
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Once I reached the summit it was still dark with the faint glow of the sun coming over the horizon. Even by this stage there were around 100 people already on the summit so I found a little tree on the east side to sit and watch the sun come up. The tree is just around 20m down the hill from the east summit and you can escape the hundreds on the top. Once the sky started to illuminate is was then that I realised why this hike was so popular. Merbabu has 3 summits, with 2 of them the exact same height. There is a 3rd peak that looks a little shorter but its hard to tell as they call the peak the triangulasi. The 3rd peak is to the north and is joined to the main peaks by a ridge line. If you have time you can really explore the whole summit area. It would take quite some time as it is large but time well spent in my opinion as it is beautiful, grassy and has amazing views.

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The sun came over the horizon at 540am and it was incredible. You can look south to Merapi and then north to the 3rd peak of Merbabu. Lawu was off in the distance and on the west peak the views were even better. Sumbing and Sindoro take over the horizon and Mount Andong, the viewpoint of all the volcanoes is way down in the valley. 
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I spent a good 90 minutes on the summit. I met some exchange students from the Netherlands on the top who were studying in Yogjakarta. They were super friendly and were actually the only foreigners that I saw for my whole 10 day trip in Java.

Merbabu

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The first part of the descent is quite steep and dusty so caution really needs to be taken. I slipped over really badly 3 times and landed on my bum. I was running down so this made it worse but care still needs to be taken. There is one really steep part just before the last campsite that can take a while as it is next level steep. 
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Once at the last campsite, the way out is very easy. The trail gently goes down. I did actually see a surveillance camera mounted on a pole at the last campsite which was quite interesting. From the summit to the gate took me 1 hour. I did run a bit on the lower section but even a very casual person who doesn’t take any stops would easily get down in 2 hours. The whole trip is 12km return with 1400m of up.
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If you didn’t want to camp on the mountain there certainly is no need. A casual hiker could leave at 2am and still make it to the summit for sunrise and then be back at the base again by 8 or 9 am, depending on how long you spent at the summit. 
 
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Would I recommend this hike?

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Certainly! But maybe it would be best to go on a weekday rather than a weekend as it would be a lot quieter. I did hear that Indonesians have to register for this hike online now as they allow 600 people a day. This does NOT apply to foreigners. If you arrive and plan to camp you will have to pay the registration fee and then you’ll be good to go. I’m not 100% sure if they would force you to take a guide here but on Semeru I registered and just went along. If you want to read about climbing Semeru you can read my account here. If you just want to do the night hike you can just arrive in the middle of the night and head on up, there won’t be anyone around to check you in or take your fees. 
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If solo hiking doesn’t take your fancy you can certainly find guides in Selo who will take you up the hill and can be a good companion if you are alone. I once took a guide up Agung, even though there is a massive trail and there is absolutely no need for a guide, and we became really close friends. 
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If you are a foreigner be wary of what your Indonesian friends or other Indonesians will tell you about hiking the volcanoes. As a foreigner we are subject to all sorts of unfairness regarding hiking in Indonesia. As a foreigner we may be forced to take guides, we have to pay up to 20 times what an Indonesian has to pay and they may not be able to convey that to you because they simply won’t know. All in all the experience of hiking Merbabu is absolutely incredible and I would highly recommend anyone to do it. 
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Logistics for the trip

How to get there


For the exact starting point of the hike click here.

I stayed in Solo and rode my scooter to the basecamp. I left Solo at 130am and was at Selo by 2.45am but I would have been there earlier if I hadn’t got lost for about 15 minutes trying to find the basecamp. The total trip time is an hour and if you want to rent a scooter I rented mine off Arya Trans Rental Motor for 90k per day. The scooter was brand new and really powerful and I would highly recommend renting off this guy. The parking at Selo is safe as you have to pay for parking and then you can park at one of the base camps along the road. You certainly don’t have to worry about the motorbike being taken here as all the Indonesians leave theirs parked here for days as they hike the mountain. 

Where to Stay

Solo is just an hours drive from the basecamp and offers a huge selection of accommodation. I found my accommodation on Booking.com for $9 a night and it was a great base while I climbed Lawu and Merbabu. If you didn’t want to stay in Solo, Selo, at the base of the mountain has some very basic accommodation in the form of the basecamps. These are pretty much just large rooms where you put your sleeping mat down and sleep in your sleeping bag. These are always free for hikers. If you want a good rest I’d recommend getting a cheap guesthouse, leave all of your belongings there, hike in the middle of the night and then come back so you can rest after the hike. 

How long is the hike

In a word, not that long compared to other Indonesian volcanoes and the trail is one of the best I’d been on in the country. 
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I would always try to get to the summit by around 5am so I would work out how long I thought it would take and then work from that. There are some great apps, namely maps.me and strava where you can work out how long its going to take you to hike up. Strava has segments which you can check and see how long the fastest people have taken. From there, if you have climbed other volcanoes, you can work out roughly how many metres per hour you can go up at your pace. 
Note – You can’t compare to a normal trail as volcanoes are much more difficult. For me my normal speed is around 800m per hour on a good trail and on the volcanoes 500m per hour so its quite a difference. 
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For me, my slow and easy speed (110 heart rate) is 500m per hour. Then you can work out how long it will take. For Merbabu, Selo is at 1800m and the summit almost 3200m. So the difference is 1400m. From here I can see that at 500m per hour it will take me almost 3 hours. Then I add 30 minutes to give a little buffer then I work out when I should be at the basecamp going off that hiking time. So for me I should be there at around 2am.
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Gear

  • Small backpack
  • Head Torch 
  • Rain proof jacket and pants (the weather may be clear but you want to always be prepared. Mountain weather is unpredictable) 
  • Breakfast and snacks 
  • Warm Jacket 
  • 2l water minimum 
  • Camera
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes with really good grip
  • Hiking poles – the trail is very steep after the last campsite 

 

 Do you plan to hike Merbabu? Let me know in the comments how you get on.

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